By FOLABI OGUNLEYE
A FEW WEEKS AGO, Nigerians were mostly minding their business, striving to keep ahead of the rat race of a competitive world when the president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, grabbed a microphone to tell his fellow citizens something he thought they should know.
According to the president, his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, “is the only party we have in Nigeria today that does not have one person that his word is law; most other parties have one leader whose words are laws. In PDP there is no one person that his word is law.”
That was on Wednesday, February 29, at the 59th National Executive Council Meeting of the PDP in Abuja. About eighteen days later, Vice President Namadi Sambo would echo a variation of his boss’s sentiments at the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua Complex in Kaduna.
“The PDP is the most organized party, not only in Nigeria, but the entire Africa,” Mr. Sambo intoned, no doubt proud of his political party as any party leader should be.
It is easy to see where the president and the vice president were coming from. In the thirteen years of its existence, the Peoples Democratic Party of Nigeria has largely remained intact, outliving its rivals who have either completely dissolved or undergone some form of metamorphosis or the other. Most of the political power-brokers who were present at its founding still remain as active members of the party, with some still as influential as they were in 1998 and 1999.
Besides the cohesion that has kept the party relatively united, there is also something to be said of the successes of the PDP. Yes, you read me right: successes. Save for a couple of political upsets here and there, especially the recent political routing it got at the hands of the Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led Action Congress of Nigeria in last year’s general election in the south-west, the PDP has mostly remained, by hook or crook, the party to beat.
What more, the PDP appears to be the most widely noticed of the political parties in Nigeria, no thanks to its flamboyant, well-choreographed events, from local congresses to national conventions. It does not matter what part of Nigeria you find yourself; there is always a PDP umbrella nearby, beckoning on you to try the Party for a shade from the burning heat of the Nigerian sun. If in doubt, ask the first lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan. (As for whether the average Nigerian gets to enjoy the protection of the PDP umbrella, that is another story altogether).
For these reasons and more the PDP man can boast of his party and its good fortunes, and cite same, rightly or wrongly, as the product of hard work and the integrity of the manner the Party’s affairs are run, relative to other political parties in the country.
The rival parties of the PDP, and indeed a good portion of the Nigerian citizenry, love to scoff at such chest-thumping – and perhaps for good reason, too. For many of these people, the PDP is the epitome of official corruption in Nigeria. But all that can be deemed subjective, especially when it comes from rival political parties who are steeped in their own shady ways as well. For some of these opposition parties, the only barrier against the ocean of official corruption is the absence of access to the levers of power.
As activities entered a heightened phase within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the last few weeks, President Jonathan and his fellow party-members have not lost the opportunity to remind Nigerians that their party is the best in the country. Hence the recent comments from the president and the vice president at their different forums.
Yet, there are strong grounds to challenge the narrative being sold by the PDP, and those who care to do so are doing a good job of it. Among such persons is the irrepressible National Publicity Secretary of opposition Action Congress of Nigeria, Lai Mohammed, who dug deep into his lexicon trove to challenge the president on the facts of his February 29 remarks. Mr. Mohammed’s comments were bothersome enough to force an irritated response from the presidency, warning the ACN leader to watch how he speaks of the president and the commander-in-chief of the country.
It is important to hold persons and political parties, whether in the opposition or in the ruling party, to fair standards always. So when the president and other leaders of the ruling party tell Nigerians that the PDP is the best thing since moi-moi and akamu, it behooves the informed citizenry to check the facts and challenge them where need be.
The recent flurry of political activities within the PDP peaked in the last few days, starting with congresses at the local government and state levels, culminating in Saturday’s convention at Abuja’s Eagle Square where a 76-year old former governor of the defunct Gongola State, Bamanga Tukur, emerged as the National Chair of the PDP.
In virtually all the party posts sought at every level of the party, from ward to state and national offices, some sort of gentlemen agreement was reached between the party members to anoint certain candidates – often to the chagrin of other members desirous of the same posts, who eventually vouchsafed their reluctant loyalties to these anointed candidates. A slightly amusing case in point concerns a political bloc whose high hopes for a national office was shattered at Saturday’s convention. The group, Forum for the Strategic Positioning of the Nigerian Woman for Nation Building, released a statement signed by a certain Mrs. Sokomba expressing its bitter disappointment, even as it tamped down its rhetoric towards the final paragraphs of the statement to ever-so-discreetly purr its obeisance to those who hold the aces.
In other words, the losers grin, bear it and hope for a bite of the cake at a later point of this magical process perfected by the apparatchiks of the PDP.
Yet these are delegates – that is, members of the party leadership, and not just the regular Bola out there on the streets. If that is the lot of PDP delegates, what hopes do regular citizens have, if any? Where do citizens factor-in in the decision-making process of the PDP leadership? Is the ballot, as opposed to the convocation of secret ‘conclaves’, not better in serving the aspirations of the people in representative democracy? How can the very same PDP members who love to ridicule opposition party members for their lack of internal democracy base an entire process of selecting party leadership on sheer consensus?
These are questions that the informed Nigerian should be asking.